Software Development

The 10 most annoying programs on the Internet

Let's face it: Some software is just plain aggravating. It's almost as if it were created for the sole purpose of driving us crazy. ZDNet.co.uk's Rupert Goodwins offers this selection of 10 programs that try to do the impossible: to make us hate the Internet and wish it had never been invented -- and which very nearly succeed.

The Internet has brought us many joys. It's rewritten the rules of business and pleasure.

And pain. For it allows what may have seemed like bright ideas at the time ("Let's use it to make sure our customers have the latest software," for example) to turn into a stinking pit of misery -- usually, but by no means always, after marketing gets its fangs in.

Here are just 10 of the guilty parties that try to do the impossible: to make us hate the Internet and wish it had never been invented -- and which very nearly succeed.

Note: This list originally appeared as a photo gallery created by Rupert Goodwins, which published on ZDNet.co.uk, ZDNet, and TechRepublic. It's also available as a PDF download.

#1: Adobe Reader

What does Adobe Reader do? Displays PDF pages. How does it do it? With as much bloody-minded bureaucracy, delay, and needless interaction as possible. Perhaps it's because we humans have been spoiled by books, where the gap between wanting to read something and reading it is as short as the time taken to lift the cover. But Reader's incessant updates (demanding you reset your computer -- why?), thundering great list of modules to load, and hour-glass-provoking pauses for thought have given Portable Document Format a reputation for being as welcome as a flatulent camel in the kitchen.

Which is a shame, because other lightweight PDF readers seem to manage perfectly well.

#2: Apple

Oh, Apple. You created a domain where humans came first. You took usability and distilled it into an art form. Now look at you. iTunes is a music player the size of a fat-bottomed whale that gobbles resources like krill. It spends half its time trying to sell us stuff and the other half trying to stop us using it. But that's not as bad as your auto-update policy: slipping us stealth copies of Safari under the cover of important version updates to iTunes and Quicktime -- what is this, Make Microsoft Look Good day?

#3: Windows Update

Your machine will reset in four minutes. Your machine will not shut down until these five updates are installed. You must restart your machine now. You will install Microsoft Genuine Advantage. Please wait while these updates are installed. Please shut down all applications before applying this update. Pop! New updates are ready to be installed. And now that we've stopped you doing whatever it was you were doing (like we care), shall we go ahead and install them now, or would you rather be interrupted yet again later?

We've been kind and not talked about Vista.

#4: RealPlayer

If this software turned up at your door, you'd call the police. RealPlayer commits just about every sin in the book, sprinkling itself across your desktop and offering "Free games!" It installs a "Message Center" that tells you about microcelebrities. There is more advertising embedded in the application than used to be on the front page of The Times. And you just wanted to stream The Archers.

At least Europe's been spared Real's Rhapsody music shop. When we looked at a beta before a subsequently abandoned UK launch, we were given software to install. "Disable your firewall," it commanded. "Drop dead," we replied.

#5: Java

Java doesn't do anything by itself. It's a programming language. Programming languages are like sewage plants: If the average user becomes aware of them, something's gone wrong.

Java doesn't know this. Java wants to be in your face. Java wants to be updated. Java wants to tell you the good news about Sun. Have you heard about Sun? Here's a nice picture of our logo. And fancy a copy of OpenOffice? No? Well, never mind. Java's installed a copy of Yahoo Toolbar in your browser instead. Because that's what programming languages are there to do, right?

#6: Yahoo

And talking of Yahoo. Please stop. Please stop trying to take over my e-mail, my search engine, my home page. Please stop "updating" your IM client to include more emoticons, animations, noises, and whatnot -- or at least have the good grace to produce a grown-ups' edition I can use at work without feeling like I should still be reading Smash Hits. And yes, when I ask to exit the software, that's because I really want to, not because I'm having a crisis of doubt.

And there is absolutely no point in a toolbar that just replicates all the options on your Web site's front page. Not unless you want to come across as the sort of shrill, desperate, needy software company that makes big noises about user relationships but in fact knows less about its users than the Queen does about shopping in Lidl.

#7: Norton Antivirus

It's a little unfair to pick on Norton Antivirus and make it carry the sins of half the desktop malware industry -- but only a little unfair. If ever a class of software deserved to be cast into the lower reaches of Hell and run on Satan's own desktop, it is this. Performance-sapping, space-hogging, noisy, irritating, and prone to inducing just as many problems as they purport to solve, these horrible, ineffective, expensive lumps of digital thuggery keep entire platoons of support engineers in business and home users in tears. We know. We get the phone calls.

#8: Preinstalled software bundles

After a quarter of a century of the IBM PC, we still don't understand why so many companies feel obliged to create swathes of below-par software to install on the computers they sell. Notebook makers are the worst, and Sony the king of them all: The first job for any new Vaio owner is to strip out the layers of desktop "enhancements," media '"managers," and system "control software" that serve only to get in the way of doing things the way you know how to do them, interfere with other software packages, and suck up such enormous amounts of resources on start-up that two weeks after you've bought one, you're still not sure whether it's broken or not.

#9: Outlook/Exchange

Free, Web-based e-mail systems have more storage than you can use. They have powerful, accurate, swift search systems. They have clean interfaces, with threaded conversations and sane attachment management.

Then there's Microsoft's Outlook. Things have been getting better for those whose corporate upgrade strategy allows it, but with major updates happening every four years or so, that's a long time to be looking at a non-threaded, license-restricted storage-squeezed, treacle-slow-searching e-mail system. Especially while the online services get better and better, and doubly so now that e-mail is the single most important business application ever created.

#10: Flash

There's nothing wrong with Flash, provided you don't use it to construct Web sites where people want to find information, navigate easily, or do anything beyond passively consume exactly what you choose to give them in exactly the way you've decided. There's also nothing wrong with using it for a splendid splash screen replete with movies, sound and animation -- if you don't mind frustrating, annoying, and possibly even driving away people who might, just might, have something better to do.

In fact, Flash-based Web sites are quite possibly one of the most useful pieces of network technology around. Like heroin or microlights, they ensure that those who think it's a good idea aren't around to annoy us for too long.

43 comments
chaz15
chaz15

I personally had a lot of trouble with Spyware Doctor. It caused me more trouble than most malware and I still cringe when I think of what effect (BAD!!!) it had on my computer and my IMMENSE relief when I managed to uninstall it. Had I paid for it, I might have chopped off my right hand! AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!!! Avast! and Avira didn't stay on my computer long as resource hogging etc. AVG went through a phase a little while back of flagging some known very clean everyday apps as virus infected. Fortunately they have improved their heuristics after cursing AVG every !!!*** name under the sun for a few weeks and trying the aforementioned (not very viable alternatives. I STILL get emails from Avira, MONTHS later about updates almost daily, even after supposedly stopping them in my Avira profile AND later DELETING the account. At least I know through my firewall which apps try to 'bloat' my computer. Having said this, COMODO also went through a period of causing me much pain until they too corrected something. I like to have a LOT of tabs open when eg I browse for 'free games' and the ONLY app that can manage this is Firefox, BUT PLEASE Mozilla developers include a short routine to inform me, when Firefox is running out of resources to open more tags. Flash and animated Gif images seem to cause the biggest problems. It was a brainwave though to allow new tabs while keeping the restore session avilable! I totally agree with the 10 apps you have mentioned as being the bain of the Internet!

ElmersZ
ElmersZ

Oh my, Mr TechRepublic Your a thing after my own heart Here, here I shout loudly in support of your rant. You have been looking into my soul I fear. Only Microsoft's new "OS" Windows 7 annoyes me more than what you have mentioned. That you mentioned Google is amazing. I was afraid that I was alone in my growin annoyance with those people. Even Yahoo has the brains to let you see you mail without repuiring you type their @yahoo.com every damn time. Yahoos email prograrm may be getting more annoying every day and is only a thread away from becoming history on my PC but I only dump my trash there anyhow. Keep up the GOOD work TR

butte56
butte56

I thought I was alone in how I thought of real player, adobe, yahoo, java, etc. It is time for a revolution!

techflippinrepublic
techflippinrepublic

I think your list is spot on. Some things are just annoying. too bad there are no solutions or alternatives to your bitching, not that I disagree with it... but this was an unproductive post mister you ought to rethink your posting. make it better.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

#9: Outlook/Exchange Free, Web-based e-mail systems have more storage than you can use. They have powerful, accurate, swift search systems. They have clean interfaces, with threaded conversations and sane attachment management. GREAT - HOW DO I KEEP MY CORPORATE INFORMATION PRIVATE & CONFEDENTIAL USING THESE. WHAT HAPPENS IF SAID FREE PROVIDER LOSES MY MAIL OR SHUTS DOWN? Then there???s Microsoft???s Outlook. Things have been getting better for those whose corporate upgrade strategy allows it, but with major updates happening every four years or so, that???s a long time to be looking at a non-threaded, license-restricted storage-squeezed, treacle-slow-searching e-mail system. Especially while the online services get better and better, and doubly so now that e-mail is the single most important business application ever created. INDEED - ALL THOSE CORPORATE E_MAILS THAT NEED TO BE KEPT CONFEDENTIAL, ARCHIVED AND OUT THE PUBLIC DOMAIN AT ALL COSTS.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

The rest is all too true, but my Adobe reader doesn't even splash. I click a link and I have a PDF displayed as fast as any other webpage. I also have a full Actrobat copy in another PC and obviously it runs quickly, but the reader in this notebook is instant. Cheap notebook, 2GB RAM with Vista HP in it. Seriously, no user intervention needed for updates, no reboots just clikc a PDF link and it opens as quick as any other page (which is pretty quick with my connection, I don't run a 56K modem or anything).

whollyfool
whollyfool

They're the big elephants in the room. They may have been industry-standard and/or legitimate in their day, but now they are poorly running, bloated applications with "options" you have to be Mark Russinovich to change. Other applications that employ those techniques are called "malware."

jujuju
jujuju

JAVA is also a Virtual Machine that "Run" Java programs. what the "user" installs is the JRE or Java Runtime Enviroment (something like de .NET Framework) if you want the Programming Language you have to install the JDK or Java Development Kit. anyways the JRE in Windows is annoying as HELL

JJBLOW
JJBLOW

I think its funny how mac somehow makes itself out to be the software/hardware company of the people and made microsoft out to be the big nazi corp who hates people. Last time i checked half the programs on my windows pc are homebrew (including my ipod program (zpod))and how many homebrew programs to date are available on Mac?

wipster
wipster

I gotta say, while I use a lot of the software mentioned, I agree with the authors comments 110%... especially the comment about Acrobat. What started out as a simple single format for creating a doc that all computers could read has turned into one of the biggest pieces of bloatware around. Then again, almost every item listed could be easily compared to my old economics prof's definition of rational government: one where I as a government employee still have a job (like, when's the last time you heard of a program or department created going away just because it's mission has been accomplished?).

george
george

OK, so I would certainly have used a different sequence, but your top ten certainly matches mine. just a couple of comments: (1) Outlook Express, the spam hacker's dream. even those who have the sense not to bother with using it often forget to remove it. can you say "built-in vulnerability"? (2) Flash. those who spew it onto websites probably don't realise that it's content I'll never see, as one of the simplest and most effective ways to bypass uncontrollable adcrap is to not have the player installed. if I don't see it, it's no big deal, unless you also care whether your site is accessible to, say, search engines. or to blind users (the most overlooked set of potential beneficiaries of computers and the net, the majority of whom just get left further behind as interfaces become increasingly visual).

techflippinrepublic
techflippinrepublic

well I will get on that right away. thank you for the feedback. at least somebody is reading this.

dch48
dch48

ALL web based email interfaces are terrible. Give me the clean and simple operation of Outlook Express or Windows mail any day

DasTwitcH
DasTwitcH

Dude. Seriously. Learn the meaning of that little key on the left. Third down in the main block. Under the tab? I know you obviously don't look there much, but for crying out softly, Caps Lock is not a toy! It just makes you look like a n00bish AOLer and tells people that you're really not worth listening to... T

DasTwitcH
DasTwitcH

Do you have the adobe agent in your startup sequence? Usually that's the only way to get a PDF to open quickly. Unfortunately it means everything else runs slower due to resource hogging...

paul.froehle
paul.froehle

It is very efficient, but I got a virus with it on my system.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Real Player, no matter what I have used it in, is by far the very worst video program I have ever seen. I think I have seen PERHAPs 5 movie clips that actually ran in Real Player properly. Other times I just use third party software and Real vids are fast and effortless. Real Player, what a ghey format anyway.

george
george

"like, when's the last time you heard of a program or department created going away just because it's mission has been accomplished?" I've got one on my resume ...

dch48
dch48

I would take 6 things off of it. 1. Adobe--has never caused me a single problem 2.Windows update-see above 3.Java-see above, a necessary addition 4.Norton-see above, used it for 10 years and it is not resource hogging in the slightest in it's present form 5.Outlook--see above, even though all my email accounts are web based, I still use Outlook Express to access them. Web based interfaces for email are terrible. 6.Flash-- see Java

stevethehawk
stevethehawk

The article pretty much nailed it in my opinion. I also agree with you re: Flash. Damn it does some annoying things and can make using the Web a bothersome experience.

dch48
dch48

The only thing on the list I would agree with is Real Player,and possibly Yahoo. All the others are fine and some, like Norton, are superlative. There is also nothing wrong with Outlook Express. I have used it as my only email client for over 10 years without a single problem. In those years I have never been hacked or infected and I also have never had to reformat a hard drive.

dch48
dch48

The fast open part of Adobe reader does not slow anything down. That's imaginary.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

There are quite a few free PDF readers out there now that are small and fast.

davgall
davgall

Good, well made point! In addition (Shame on You Ziff!!) the PDF file does NOT download on my machine and many others....

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

This has to be the first time I have EVER heard someone say something good about Norton. The first thing I do when I buy a new computer is uninstall Norton (I am amazed OEMs still include it). The second thing I do is uninstall Outlook Express (a moot point beginning with Vista). The fact that you not only are content using them, but you consider them "superlative" brings me to seriously question your technological intellect. Now, in reference to the list: I literally laughed out loud as I read the list, because it was like the author had been reading my mind. With one exception. I do use Outlook (the real thing, not that "Express" crap). I have both a Yahoo email and a Gmail address, and I download my messages into Outlook. I don't like the idea of all my email being on someone else's computer - it just rubs me the wrong way. I am a lot more at ease knowing that my messages are in my own hands. If I delete them accidentally, it's my own bloody fault. And in its defense, Acrobat Reader has been improved significantly in the 18 months since this article was first written. Apparently someone smacked Adobe upside the head with their own digital footprint, because I can now open an average document in a fraction of a second, and no, I do not have any "agent" included in my startup routine. And, I would like to add one to the list - I loathe Microsoft's Silverlight. It ranks right up there with Flash. The first time I installed it, it didn't install correctly, so I had to uninstall it and try again. Then, by the time I got through and visited a site that implemented it, I had to install a newer version because in the time it took me to install it successfully, it had already become obsolete. Microsoft, what were you thinking? At least Silverlight's free (good thing, cuz it's not worth anything). Also, I would expand point #6 to include not just Yahoo, but every other IM client or toolbar I've ever encountered. Anyone gullible enough to continue to use the "free" Yahoo (or Google, or any other) toolbar, deserves every headache it brings with it. Now, if anyone wants to disagree with me, that's OK - you won't hurt my feelings. Just consider yourselves fortunate that you have not had to endure the frustrations that so many others have.

F.Gaudet
F.Gaudet

Oh my, someones feathers have been ruffled: their fetish email reader bashed! Oh my... I agree with at least 8/10 of those choices and have repeatedly been annoyed by those exact same examples. My major nemesis has to be Adobe Reader: it has become huge (200+mb, wtf?), annoying, slow, buggy, installs a bunch of sidecrap ( a d/l manager, re-wtf?), and is a security risk, to such a point that I do not install it anymore, preferring any light-weight free alternative. As for Real Player, it has not seen any of my PC's for years - it's been barred as a royal spam master long ago! Flash remains a necessary evil I still install though...

clava
clava

How can you say such thing? The author was generous not listing a hundred or listing just about all microsoft apps in there. Norton is the plague, and competes with OutlookExpress fiercely to see who crosses the line of worse sw ever. I wonder if someone supporting positive opinions about those dangerous pieces of software has any relevance, because the pieces of software are by definition irrelevant themselves. Saying they are just aggravating is saying a generous minimum. Irrelevant users shouldnt need an opinion. Arrrrrgh!

j
j

Without being nasty, DCH, you should try out Gmail for a change - you will never look back. Saying you have been happy with Outlook Express is like saying you are perfectly happy riding your horse to work ... How about trying to use some 21st century transportation ...? :^)

vaughanm
vaughanm

I use foxit reader, it opens fast, Adobe takes ages to load.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

blogsterbating. Do it too much and your keyboard will grow hair and your monitor goes blind.

seanferd
seanferd

Is it like concern trolling?

aandruli
aandruli

Ive seen dozens of computers become unworkable or even unboootable because of Norton AV (oh, the horror -- the horror!)-- and almost always there is an undetected virus on the machines. A bench test with Systernals shows Norton is checking the registry for a valid user key several times a minute!!! No thanks -- we are done with this product forever.

dch48
dch48

Norton is superlative and has never caused me a single problem or slowed down my system in any way. I also have never been infected or hacked. I much prefer the simple interface of Outlook Express or Windows Mail to that of ANY web based email provider. I don't save or sort mail, I simply read it and delete it. I also will almost always use a Microsoft program over it's alternatives because they simply work. I also have IE8 as my only browser. The rest are no better, I've tried them all. I find most of the complaints about things from "techies" to be paranoid or imaginary or both.

dch48
dch48

I have gmail but I hate the web based interface so I use OE to access it. My primary email is GMX however. It's better than gmail.

martin
martin

I have only just seen this. Me, I'd have made it a round dozen by putting Acrobat as numbers 1,2 & 3. As well as what you say about it, people write instructions with four lines of text per page, very tiny print and 3 inch margins, and then put on a password so you can't send it to Word and make a user-friendly, paper-saving copy. Gregory Goon

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